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Getting an Accurate City Census Count in 2010

The Count: Boogeying Towards the Census from People's Production House on Vimeo.

You’ve Got to Be In It to Win It

February 2010 Newsletter

For the past decade, the most important number in New York City hasn’t been 911, or even 311—it’s been 8,008,278—the City’s official population according to the 2000 census. Billions in federal funds are allocated based on census data every year, coming out to $2,000 a head for health care, transportation, and other programs. With political representation also based on the census, New York is at risk of losing congressional seats if the population count dips.

Immigrant Empowerment
New Immigrant Community Empowerment members helped get out the vote in 2008. With a Trust grant, the group will be doing similar outreach for the 2010 census.
Immigrant and other minority communities have historically been under-counted, and when The Trust helped the City update its mailing list for the 2000 census, it added 370,000 people that the census bureau couldn’t find on its own. This resulted in an additional $600 million for New Yorkers over the past 10 years, according to the director of the Department for City Planning’s Population Division, Joe Salvo. “Folks did incredibly diligent field work and tried to uncover every possible address. They would go to houses that have illegal conversions and 47 door bells at a single address,” recalls Karen Kaminsky of the Immigration Coalition. Joe Salvo continues, “whether we get an accurate census in the City in 2010 is dependent on whether we get a response or not.”

With barely half of households completing the questionnaire in 2000, The Trust and the New York Foundation formed the 2010 Census Funders NYC Initiative, bringing together the New York State Department of State, the NYC Census Office, and a number of funders. The Initiative is working to improve the response rate by funding 35 grassroots groups in neighborhoods and among constituencies with historically low response rates. “It’s about being reached by someone you know and trust,” says Stacey Cumberbatch, coordinator of the City’s new census office. “We have to mobilize trusted community voices and institutions across the city to allay fears… and explain the concrete benefits of an accurate count to each community.”

Although the personal data collected on the census questionnaires is confidential and cannot legally be shared with immigration, housing, or other authorities, many people remain skeptical. Families doubling or tripling up in one home fear that information could be given to the buildings or fire departments and get them evicted. Undocumented immigrants fear detention and deportation. Public housing residents are wary of reporting any residents not on the lease. “Say your friend was incarcerated, he can’t get on the lease [in NYCHA housing], but he’s living there anyway… it’s very hard to convince them that the census data does not go to the housing authority,” says Pat Simon, the executive director of Ocean Bay Community Development Corporation. “People are also not aware of the benefits that come with filling out the questionnaire. We’ll tell them that if they don’t tell us about that extra person in their household, the employment, day care, and other programs they rely upon will be underfunded. They get that.”

Grantees, such as Chhaya Community Development Corporation, will target specific ethnic groups or geographic areas while others, such as the New York Taxi Workers Alliance, will focus on constituencies dispersed throughout the City. In conjunction with the U.S. Census Bureau’s broad national ad campaign, the Immigration Coalition and the New York Community Media Alliance will run a series of print ads to reach smaller ethnic groups in the City. These ads will be printed in less-common languages and feature respected community voices. “It’s about taking people by the hand and telling them, ‘It’s okay to acknowledge your existence, you won’t be penalized,” says the Coalition’s Norman Eng, “but if you aren’t in the census, it’s as if you don’t exist for 10 years.”

Members of the 2010 Census Funders NYC Initiative include: Durst Foundation, Foundation to Promote Open Society, The New York Community Trust, New York Foundation, Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors, Census Outreach Project at Public Interest Projects, and Tisch Illumination Fund.

The Initiative has given $562,000 to the groups mentioned in the article and to the following groups:


  • Adhikaar for Human Rights and Social Justice,
  • African Refuge Inc.,
  • Arab American Association of New York,
  • BronxWorks (formerly Citizens Advice Bureau),
  • Brooklyn Congregations United,
  • Chinese American Planning Council,
  • Cidadao Global,
  • Citizens Committee for New York City,
  • Coalition for the Improvement of Bedford Stuyvesant,
  • Coalition for Institutionalized Aged and Disabled,
  • Council of Peoples Organization,
  • Drum-Desis Rising Up and Moving,
  • Groundwork,
  • Jacob A. Riis Neighborhood Settlement House,
  • Make the Road New York,
  • Minkwon Center,
  • Mirabal Sisters Cultural and Community Center,
  • Mixteca Organization,
  • New Immigrant Community Empowerment,
  • The New School Center for New York City Affairs,
  • Northern Manhattan Coalition for Immigrant Rights,
  • NY Voting Rights Consortium,
  • Picture the Homeless,
  • Queens Congregations United for Action,
  • Red Hook Initiative,
  • Southern Queens Park Civic Association,
  • United Chinese Association,
  • Vamos Unidos,
  • Voces Latinas,
  • and Youth Communication New York Center.

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